Born Barikor, founder and CEO of Our Parks, has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Warwick.
Commenting on receiving the honour, he said: “It’s probably the hardest degree you can get because it is your life and everything you have learned and put into practise without anyone telling you how to do it. It is such an honour to be recognised for making a difference to people and inspiring anyone and everyone to do the maximum they can do.”
Mr Barikor’s initiative, Our Parks, runs free, expert-led social exercise and activity classes in city parks. Founded in London, classes now run nationally, and 100,000 people participate every week. The University of Warwick has adopted the programme as part of its bid to become the most active campus in the UK. It was a key part of the plan because Our Parks specifically targets inactive people – those who do less than 30 minutes of activity a week.
Mr Barikor said: “Our Parks was born because I was a community sports officer and I was tasked with getting people fit inside a gym. I realised that there was something fundamentally wrong with the equation ‘if we build it they will come.’ It doesn’t work because the people you are meant to be targeting don’t want to be in gyms.
“I don’t like to use the words ‘hard to reach’ because I don’t think people are hard to reach – I don’t think we are reaching them in the way that they need to be reached. Remove the hard to reach…let’s make it accessible, fun and give them an experience. So they take it away, share that good practise and come back.”
Enjoying the experience, rather than being good at the sport is the key to Mr Barikor’s rationale – and this comes from personal experience. He said: “My own experience is having a great coach, who took me from sitting on a wall and probably doing stuff I shouldn’t be doing, by saying ‘you have some talent let’s get you into athletics’. But, it was the way in which I found the love for a sport, not because I was good at it but because I enjoyed it. I felt that everyone, no matter where you live, should have the opportunity to experience high quality exercise.”
Mr Barikor says sports and group exercise activities have a cohesive effect in communities. He said: ”Sport plays a very important part in building communities that will thrive together. No matter where you live, no matter what your upbringing, when you come onto that field or into an exercise class, for that hour you are as equal as everyone. That is why sport is so important and powerful because it allows people from all communities, from all walks of life, to mix, talk and socialise.
“And for me it gave me an aspiration. I couldn’t see past my postcode and I got and do sport and suddenly I’m travelling the county and the world and I realised there is so much more than just sitting on a wall.”
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